Building Her Vision for the Future: Aisha's Story
Aisha is only 13 but she knows what she wants from her life. “I dream of becoming a journalist to highlight the challenges of children on the streets.”
More than 60,000 children live on the streets of Accra, Ghana’s capital. And more than 50% of children between 12 and 17 who are housed live in unimproved housing facilities, overcrowded homes or homes that lack electricity. Many of these children work on the streets to support themselves and their families.
“When I see my mates selling on the streets and not in school, I feel sad,” says Aisha. “I believe that every child has the right to education, right to food and right to shelter.”
Aisha hasn’t always been this confident and determined. A few years ago, she was shy, found it difficult to make friends, and struggled to engage with her school lessons. She didn’t know about children’s rights and didn’t dream she could be an advocate for her peers. But thanks to the support of her teachers, Aisha has tapped into her confidence, and is inspiring her fellow students to do the same.
Learning Through Play
Aisha lives on the outskirts of Accra in a small family. She loves to read, sing, and chat with her friends.
Aisha used to dread going to school every day. She found classes boring, and she struggled to retain the lessons her teacher taught. Over time, she became demotivated.
Then, Aisha entered Freda’s class. A teacher with several years’ experience, Freda had also recently received training from Right To Play on how to make learning more engaging through play. Aisha responded immediately.
“Before our teacher learned to play with us in class, it was very boring. We would fall asleep because the subjects were hard to understand. Then we started playing, and learning became easier.” - Aisha, grade six student
The training Freda received was delivered through the Partners in Play project, which is supported by the LEGO Foundation. The Partners in Play project trains teachers on how to incorporate play-based learning in the classroom to empower students to express their creativity, become curious about the world, and develop a lifelong love of learning.
Freda says her teaching approach changed considerably after the training. Instead of telling students what to do, she asks students questions to better understand what they need. Her play-based lessons help children develop literacy and numeracy skills, as well as holistic skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and confidence. For example, to teach her students about climate change, she wrote a song on the topic, sang it to the class, and invited children to reflect on the lyrics. Aisha remembers the lesson well. As a music-lover, learning about an important issue through song was compelling. And it made her think about her role in fighting against climate change.
“Looking back on the way we used to teach, there’s no way Aisha would have improved like this," Freda says. “Only play-based learning could change a person’s life this way. It got her wanting to do more research and to think critically”.
Dreaming of Change
One day in class, Freda introduced a lesson about careers called ‘Careers in the World.’ During the lesson, she described many careers to engage students in thinking about their futures. And then she asked students to choose a lesson and pretend to act out what someone would do in that job.
When she described what a journalist does, a lightbulb went off in Aisha’s head. She started thinking about how reading, research and curiosity help journalists to shine a spotlight on social challenges and present solutions. She couldn’t think of a better career than one that combined her love for reading and her passion to help vulnerable children. But she was terrified of the idea of standing in front of a camera. She was much too shy for that.
“I can now talk in public without shivering or panicking.” - Aisha, grade six student
Still, she was curious. So she asked Freda for help finding more examples of the kind of journalism she was interested in. Freda showed Aisha news clips on her phone, and they talked about what skills journalists have. She encouraged Aisha to practice researching, writing, and delivering stories. She knew that the more Aisha practiced, the more confidence she would have. Freda's support made the difference.
Freda’s belief in Aisha created the space in class for her to imagine her own future and believe she could realize her dreams. And it all started with a little play.
Advocating for Her Peers
Aisha realized that to be a journalist and advocate for vulnerable children, she needed to know more about children’s rights. So she joined her school’s Child’s Rights Club, which is led by a Right To Play-trained teacher. In the club, children play games that teach them about their rights and provide them with opportunities to gain skills like assertiveness, public speaking and goal setting. Aisha learned that children have the right to education, life, food and shelter. Soon, she was facilitating games herself.
Aisha's friends started seeing her as a leader. One day, they came to her to complain about the small portion sizes at the school canteen, which had been reducing the size of meals in response to hyperinflation. Her friends told her they were hungry and asked her for her help.
Aisha wanted to help. She went to the canteen to get a plate of food and then she marched it over to the headmistress’ office. “She was surprised to see me,” Aisha says, recalling how she used to hide from the head teacher in the past. Aisha requested that the quantity of food for the students be increased, explaining that good nutrition is necessary to support their learning, their health and their well-being. She asked the headmistress to increase the portion size. The headmistress was so moved, she spoke to the school’s management, who increased the portion sizes at the canteen.
“I felt happy and proud of myself,” she said clutching her fists together in victory.
Taking action on child homelessness and child labour
When Aisha thinks about children of her age who are homeless or who are forced to leave school to work, she gets mad.
Aisha believes that the eradication of child labour and child homelessness is possible. And she wants to be part of making it possible.
As Aisha embarks on her mission to make the world a better place for children, she’s also started to gain the support of the adults in her school and community, and to convince them to become advocates for children's rights.
“I believe children can enjoy their rights and stay off the streets if everyone works together to make them feel protected, loved and taken care of,” she says.